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Wilfred Owen (ca. 1916)

The Swift

An Ode
When the blue has broken
Through the pearly heat
And the grass is woken
By our early feet,
Oh, then to be the Lark! - With all his fun
To pelt my mate with gayest kisses,
And mount to laugh away those blisses
In shaking merriment unto the sun!

When the dark is listening
And the leaves hang still,
While the glow-worms, glistening,
Make the keen stars thrill,
Would I might mourn to one lorn Nightingale
And be the solace of her solitude,
Speaking my doles all clear and unsubdued
And audible to her, the Nightingale.

But when eve shines lowly,
And the light is thinned,
And the moon slides slowly
Down the far-off wind,
Oh, then to be of all the birds the Swift!
To flit through ether, with elves winging,
Drawn up western fires, in frenzy singing,
Along the breeze to lean and poise and drift!

Fine thou art and agile,
O thou perfect bird,
As an arrow fragile
By an Eros whirred;
And like a cross-bow in a Cupid's grasp
Thy wings are ever stretched, for striking ready;
And like young Love thou'rt frantic and unsteady,
And sure as his thine aim, and keen as Love's thy gasp.

Strung in tautest tension
By the lust of speed,
And the mad contention
Of insatiate greed,
Thou suck'st away the intoxicating air,
Trailing a wake of song in trilling bubbles,
Till distance drowns thee. Then thy light wing doubles,
And thou art back, - nay vanished now, Oh where?

Down in sharp declension,
Grazing the low pool;
Up in steep ascension
Where the clouds blow cool;
And there thou sleepest all the luminous night,
Aloft this hurry and this hunger,
Floating with years that knew thee younger,
Without this nest to feed, this death to fight.

Airily sweeping and swinging,
Quivering unstable,
Like a dark butterfly clinging
To the roof-gable,
Art thou not tired of this unceasing round?
Long'st not for rest in mead or bower?
Must lose, as spirits lose, the power
To soar again if once thou come to ground?

Waywardly sliding and slinging,
Speed never slacking,
Easily, recklessly flinging,
Twinkling and tacking;
Oh, how we envy thee thy lovely swerves!
How covet we thy slim wings' beauty,
Nor guess what stress of need and duty
So bent thy frame to those slim faultless curves.

Dazzlingly swooping and plunging
Into the nest to peep,
Dangerously leaping and lunging -
Hark! how the younglings cheep!
O - Swift! If thou art master of the air
Who taught thee! Not the joy of flying
But of thy brood: their throttles' crying
Stung thee to skill whereof men yet despair!

Desperately driving and dashing,
Hissing and shrieking,
Breathlessly hurtling and lashing,
Seeking and seeking,
What knowest thou of grace or dance or song?
Thy cry that ringeth like a lyric,
Is it indeed of joy, a panegyric?
No ecstasy is this. By love's pain it rings strong.

O - that I might make me
Pinions like to thine,
Feathers that would take me
Whither I incline!
Yet more thy spirit's tirelessness I crave;
Yet more thy joyous fierce endurance.
If my soul flew with thy assurance,
What fields, what skies to scour! What seas to brave!

From: Wilfred Owen (1983): Wilfred Owen The Complete Poems and Fragments, edited by Jon Stallworthy, London: Chatto & Windus.

Conbtributed by Richard Riding

APUSlist No. 6023


Bruno Liljefors (1886)


Painting, oil on canvas, 40 x 53 cm
                                                                                                                                                                  Photo: Lina Tenow

list No. 5193
Contributed by Olle Tenow

Roger Yates (2009) 
Swift Summer
Coming at us like thrown blades
Out of nowhere.
Suddenly it's high summer
And they are peeling
The blue rind off thin air.
It falls away
In spirals and arcs.
They are reaping
All corners of the sky
In curved swathes.
They are hunting in packs
In the sea of the wind,
Black fins, rippling.
Wanderers over climate zones
Sliding across continents, tropics,
Circling storms
Or, lulled by updrafts,
Asleep under motionless stars.
Flying without pause for months, years,
They are the shape of the entire world
Honed by airflow, gravity, death,
By the three billion year
Upsurge against entropy.
Far below them
This city is a reef
Thrust into the currents of the sky.
A breeding ground, a seal's beach,
Where, flashing up under eves,
Hauled out of their element
They drag themselves
Tame as Galapagos birds.
The explosive new broods
Let loose among the rooves
Fly to and fro like crossbow bolts.
For sure they are Satan's cherubim
All heads and wings
Fizzing past like hot shrapnel.
You can see their demonic, glittering little faces,
Their wings sound like whips
Their screams tear the fabric of this world.
Then the battle moves elsewhere.
A long way up, distant as 1940,
Are ghosts of spitfires
And arrows shot at Agincourt
That pierce our warp of time
Make a stitch in the blue
And vanish again.
Swift Summer is coming apart
The tide is running back
Look! They have all flown out
Through the slash in the canvass.

APUSlist No. 5166
Roger Yates (2010)
The swifts have gone.
There are no more black crescents
Curving among the summer cumulus
In the towering skies of August.
Space only
And silence.
No thin screams from high up,
The aerial combat has moved on,
The dogfight gone south beyond the horizon.
And that ceaseless heroic instability
Tilting wingtip and wingtip
Scrambling for height
Skidding away on a glide
Pulling sudden violent turns
Scrambling for height again
Drifts down to Africa
As the planet swings around the sun.
They will cut through the air
Day and night
In freefall, flickering upwards, in freefall
Without stasis
Cutting through the air
Day and night.
APUSlist No. 5167


Trevor J. James


Devil Birds

Swift scimitar scythes through the sky,

Inimitable acrobat, a black

Flicker of wings, and a long sweep

Over the church spire, away.

What is it to live in the crystal

Habitat above, the insubstantial

Tide of air? We can always imitate

But not quite gain your intimacy.

On earth we plod, never quite sure

If we are wanted, a burden or a threat,

Every step crushing what we hold dear

Despite ourselves, never quite good enough.

Then we remember the scream of spring,

The dive for the chase, rolling on

Sprung curves, punching the air,

So obviously glad to have got here.

Their love is no different from ours,

The black depths of their devil thoughts

No more intransigent or sad,

No less tenuous their thread of life.

So let us celebrate together in

The tumbril height of a blue sky;

Roll our desires together in a spring day,

Shine for the carnival of the good and the damned.




Shira Twersky-Cassel


Year of the Swift

Cross-cross, mountain swift
dark winged silent-swift descending
to rend transparent firmament
in sacred Sabbath-eve twilight.

You soar over the city weaving
rainbow filament of wounded rose covered hills
of bougainvilla bush and flowering caper
and fired-tongued Moses fern.

Enter and depart the haloed ring of light
that is Jerusalem, with longing hearts
give up great hallelujah screams and shouts,

for you have not chosen lyrical song.
It is stout stamina you long for
and the ecstasy of endless flight,
earned in clamorous delight
of the great and open skies.

Threaded on air, a swift-pair join
in sudden drop to my rooftop. We meet
splintered in time – to part and part again.

© translated from the Hebrew by the poet:
Shira Twersky-Cassel



Shira Twersky-Cassel


Sparrow and Swift

The plain, the clever Sparrow
walks through the air
turns a corner easy.

The Mountain Swift
cuts across the veils of time
enters our dimension now and then
to take our breath away.

But the Sparrow, the Dror
whose Hebrew name means freedom,
the Dror has chosen Man.

© translated from the Hebrew by the poet:
Shira Twersky-Cassel



APUSlist No. 3924




G. Mützel


Source Brehm 1882

Alpensegler (Apus melba) und Mauersegler (Apus apus), ½ natürliche Größe

The Alpine Swift and the Common Swift shown at one-half scale




Ruggero Leoncavallo (1857 - 1919)




Nedda's song

What a fire in his glance!
I lowered my eyes for fear
That he read my secret thoughts.
Oh, if he ever caught me,
Brute that he is! But enough of that,
These are mere fearful and idle dreams.
Oh, beautiful mid-August sun!
And I, bursting with life, languid with desire,
And yet not knowing what it is I long for!
(looks up at the sky)
Oh what a flight of birds, what clamour!
What do they seek? Where do they go? Who knows?
My mother, who foretold the future,
Understood their song and even so
She sang to me as a child.
Hui! How wildly they shout up there,
Launched on their flight like arrows!
They defy storm-clouds and burning sun,
As they fly on and on through the heaven.
Light-thirsty ones, avid for air and splendour,
Let them pursue their journey; they, too,
Follow a dream and a chimera,
Journeying on and on through clouds of gold,
When winds blow and storms howl,
They challenge all with open wings;
Neither rain nor lightning daunts them,
Neither sea nor chasms, as they fly on and on.
They journey towards a strange land yonder,
A land they've dreamt of, which they seek in vain.
Vagabonds of the sky, who obey only
The secret force that drives them on and on.

Wie flammte auf sein Auge!
Ich senkte die Blicke zur Erde, voller Furcht,
dass er mein geheimen Gedanken lesen konne!
Oh, wenn er mich uberraschte,
brutal, wie er ist!
Doch genug, er ist weg.
Diese Gedanken sind furchtbar und wirr!
Oh diese Schone Sonne des Augusts!
Ich bin so voll von Leben und, voll von Sehnen,
geheimen Wunschen, die ich nicht kenne!
Oh! Wie die Vogelein fliegen, und wie sie singen!
Was singen sie? Wohin fliegen sie?
Wer weiss? Meine Mutter,
die die Zukunft weissagen konnte,
verstand ihr Singen und sang zu mir in der Kindheit:
Hui! Hui! Dort oben rufend, frei,
im Fluge sich vergessend, wie Pfeile fliegen die Vogel.
Sie achten weder Wolken noch die strahlende Sonne,
fliegen auf den Wegen des Himmels dahin.
Lass sie durch den Himmel fliegen,
auf der Suche navh Blaue und Glanz;
jeder folgt einem Traum, einem Wunsch,
wenn sie durch goldene Wolken fliegen!
Wie der Wind auch weht unde der Donner rollt,
mit offenen Schwingen trotzen sie allem;
dem Regen, den Blitzen, nichts kann sie aufhalten,
sie fliegen uber Abgrund und Meer.
Sie machen sich auf in ein fremdes Land,
von dem sie traumen und das sie vergebens suchen.
Doch die Wanderer des Himmels
folgen einer geheimen Macht, die sie fortzieht.




A photograph like a painting: A group of Common Swifts flying over the grand landscape of Neustadt an der Weinstraße (Germany)


                                                                                        Published with kind permission of (c) Martin Grund




John Dryden (1666)

Annus Mirabilis No. 110

As in a drought the thirsty creatures cry,
And gape upon the gather'd clouds for rain;
And first the martlet meets it in the sky,
And with wet wings joys all the feather'd train.


APUSlist No. 4074




T. Park (1803)

Sonnet. Occasioned by disengaging a Martlet from the jaws of a Cat

Herald of Summer! hapless was the flight
From thy mud hermitage or chimnied cell,
To skim the streamlet where, since dawn of light,
In the long spear-grass lurk'd grimalkin fell;
For while in airy cirque thy rapid wing
Fann'd the young swarms that hover near the flood,
Yon dark assassin, at one deadly spring,
Fix'd his strong talons in thy innocent blood!
Nor ever can thy shatter'd pinion tower
To milder climes when wintry white-frosts chill,
Nor hither flit at April's balmy hour
To mould thy matted nest with plastic bill:-
Like some sad alien from Gallia's shore,
Here wert thou exil'd, to return no more!


APUSlist No. 4066




P. Whittle (1831)

Birds - Aves

Ye birds that fly thro' the fields of air,
What lessons of truth and wisdom ye bear;
Ye would teach our souls from the earth to rise,
Ye would bid us its grovelling scenes despise.
Ye would tell us that all its pursuits are vain,
That pleasure is toil - ambition is pain,
That its bliss is touched with a poisoning leaven.
Ye would teach us to fix our aim on heaven.


APUSlist No. 4321




John Clare (1793-1864)

Northborough Sonnet

The develing black as coal comes out at night
& flyes above the village out of sight
They build in holes & straws & feathers fetch
& build above the tallest ladders reach
They make a nest like sparrows & more high
& build where sparrows seldom care to flye
They fly above the swallows far away
& never seem to settle all the day
They build where few can seldom get for fear
& keep the self same hole from year to year
Yet boys will dare where danger cannot rest
& walk upon the slates & get the nest
Ive never seen the eggs but hear them say
Theyre spotted like the sparrows white & grey



APUSlist No. 3023

Contributed by Edward Mayer




Robert Jackson (2011)

Message to the Swifts


You are late!

Three weeks ago I saw you in Lisbon

Flying low like Spitfires,

Weaving through the old city.


But you are late in Leamington!

Fewer of you,

Wheeling and squealing,

High over my tiny garden.


You are June Leamingtonians.

Thirty three summers I’ve seen you,

Dive-bombing eaves,

Decelerating into nests


Soon, you will fly non-stop

Over sea and desert,

Refuelling in flight,

To Gabarone maybe?


Your sorties lift spirits;

Minimising distance,

Converging time and place,

Punctuating life.



© Robert Jackson

APUSlist No. 4929

Contributed by Robert Jackson




Rory McGrath


from Bearded Tit


For me a bird should be built not for the ground or the sea, but for the sky, and there is perhaps one such bird. This bird belongs to the sky. or perhaps the sky belongs to this bird. I'm sure that God, having gone to the trouble of creating the sky realised he needed at least one of his creatures to be at home there. Or perhaps after creating the bird, God realised that he would have to create sky especially for it. The Swift.


APUSlist No. 4931

Contributed by Bill Henderson




Ted Hughes (1930-1998)


from Tales of the Early World


God threw up his hands gently and opened them. A peculiar black shape whizzed out of them. Sparrow blinked. He thought God had thrown a boomerang at him. It seemed to be black spinning blades going at a terrific speed, and dived straight at Sparrow, then:
Fffffwwwt! It whacked past his head and shot up into the sky - just like a boomerang. It was a real bird. God stood laughing softly with joy, as the bird spun away into the world. Sparrow could see he was almost weeping, his eyes were moist, as if he could hardly believe what he saw. "I did it! I made a Swift!"


APUSlist No. 4932
Contributed by Bill Henderson




                                                                                                                   Photo Bernard Genton


Bernard Genton


Soie noire et arabesques


Somptueux soir de juin, ciel orange, toits violines

L’air est liqueur de roses, comme nuit de Toulouse

Puis un tressaillement … qui viendrait des collines …

Ils sont cinq, ils sont six, ils sont dix, ils sont douze        

Telles des arbalètes leurs ailes trouent l’espace

De ruelle en ruelle au-dessus de l’impasse

Leur corps n’est qu’une ligne, courbe unique, épurée

Aux tons fuligineux, silhouette racée 

Leur troupe sarabande, bondit et s’arabesque

Elle effleure les mansardes, turbulence dantesque

Leurs cris strient les airs en sifflements vibrants

Leur chemin n’est que souffle, ivresse, frémissement

Puis ils jaillissent en gerbes, en volutes et en vrilles

Gravissent les nuages, palpitante escadrille

Comme une fulgurance d’étoiles de soie noire

Pour dormir dans les cieux, sublime reposoir.



APUSlist No. 4930


Abbie Hart




Swifts are fast and they are black,

I can’t wait ‘til they come back.

They have flown many miles away,

but they won’t come back until next May.


Swifts are the bird that I love best,

When they come back they need a nest.

They like to eat spiders and flies

When they are flying in the skies.


They can’t land like other birds,

They are the nicest birds I have ever heard.

I will be very sad if they were not there,

I love them so much I really care.


Here is something you can do,

Put up a nest box if you love them too.




Commonswift Worldwide © Ulrich Tigges

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